Millionaire businessman who led vigilantes convicted of manslaughter

Boss of a multimillion-pound recycling business led vigilantes who killed a man he wrongly thought had burgled his daughter’s home

  • Michael Phillips, 39, was savagely beaten at his Hartlepool home last June
  • Neil Elliott, 44, was convicted of manslaughter at for his ‘leading role’ 
  • He was the ‘driving force’ behind a group of vigilantes brutally killing Mr Phillips 
  • Lee Darby, 32, was convicted of murder and Anthony Small, 40, of manslaughter

A millionaire businessman led a vigilante gang who beat to death a man he wrongly suspected of burgling his daughter’s home.  

Neil Elliott, 44, was convicted of manslaughter at Teesside Crown Court for his ‘leading role’ in the death of Michael Phillips, who was savagely beaten at his Hartlepool home in County Durham last June.

Jurors were told Elliott was the ‘sergeant major’ who martialled his ‘foot soldiers’ in hunting down and killing Mr Phillips, 39. 

The owner of the Niramax business, and a well-known businessman in the town, had posted on Facebook earlier that day: ‘Whoever burgled my daughter’s house and took her car, your life is about to change, trust me.’

His ‘staunch’ associate Lee Darby, 32, was convicted of murder following a six-week trial.

Michael Phillips, who was savagely beaten at his Hartlepool home in County Durham last June

Neil Elliott, 44, was convicted of manslaughter at Teesside Crown Court for his ‘leading role’

Anthony Small, 40, who helped Elliott’s group get into Mr Phillips’ home, was found guilty of manslaughter.

Four other defendants were cleared of murder and manslaughter.

Mr Phillips suffered 50 injuries, including 15 broken ribs, skull and facial fractures, and a punctured lung and spleen, when a group of men attacked him.

Nick Johnson QC, prosecuting, addressed Mr Justice Jacobs about Elliott, saying: ‘Our case was, and is, that Mr Elliott was the driving force behind a series of events on June 10.

‘Beginning with his Facebook threat which included… intent to cause serious harm to those who burgled his daughter.

‘He then brought that threat to bear throughout the day, playing the leading role.’

He said Elliott and Darby had planned serious violence that day.


Lee Darby, left, was convicted of murder following a six-week trial. Anthony Small, right, who helped Elliott’s group get into Mr Phillips’ home, was found guilty of manslaughter

The jury, in clearing him of murder, may have decided that Elliott planned to cause what was short of ‘really serious violence’, the judge said.

But the jury decided with their verdicts that Darby went even further, the judge said.

Mr Johnson said Darby took the law into his own hands that day, despite a police investigation already looking into the burglary and theft of Elliott’s daughter’s car.

In a victim statement, Mr Phillips’ brother, Phillip Sharpe, said the family’s loss had hit them hard, particularly having to hear graphic evidence of the men ‘beating the air out’ of their outnumbered victim.

Mr Sharpe said: ‘To hear that’s what Michael had to go through in his final minutes will haunt us.’

The three defendants will be jailed on Thursday when the sentencing hearing is completed. 

Police in Rydal Street, Hartlepool. Mr Phillips suffered 50 injuries, including 15 broken ribs, skull and facial fractures, and a punctured lung and spleen, when a group of men attacked him

Elliott had grown from humble beginnings to own ‘the biggest house in Hartlepool’ with stables, a pool and seven bedrooms. He was boss of two successful companies, donating generously to a local hospice and financially supporting West Hartlepool rugby union club.

But the ‘man of influence’ became intent on revenge when his daughter’s house was broken into, posting on Facebook: ‘Whoever burgled my daughter’s house and took her car, your life is about to change, trust me’.’

In the aftermath of the crime he cruised the streets with his henchmen in his £46,000 Mercedes pickup truck looking for the culprit.

After viewing CCTV near his daughter’s home, Elliott decided Phillips was responsible and he was beaten to death with knuckle dusters and a cosh as he cowered in a corner of his living room.

The court heard there was no real evidence to suggest Mr Phillips was the burglar and he was more than likely innocent.  

The court had been told Michael Phillips was beaten to death in his home by a gang of seven men who stamped on and kicked him as he cowered by his fish tank, raining down blows using a knuckle duster and a cosh.

He was so badly beaten that his chest gave way as paramedics later tried to carry out CPR.

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